Compare and Contrast

Compare and Contrast the different ways in which Baz Luhrmann and William Shakespeare establish “Romeo and Juliet” as a tragedy. In studying “Romeo and Juliet”, we have looked at two very different interpretations of the story, first the original scripted play by William Shakespeare, and then Baz Luhrmann’s fast moving, modern adaptation. Both of these versions have taken the aspect of tragedy in the play and made the most of the techniques available to them to create a finished production that is effective and impressionable.

Both Shakespeare and Luhrmann have made extensive use of mind association throughout their productions of “Romeo and Juliet” by creating many different genres to connect with the memories of the audience so that they are subconsciously aware that they are witnessing a tragedy. This is more apparent when watching Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation than in reading Shakespeare’s original text, because genres and themes are more directly obvious when being viewed. A common genre that is used in the opening scenes of Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” is the dramatic and exaggerated ‘Spaghetti Western.

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‘ The sound effects used are typical of this genre; whizzing bullets and the almost cartoonish exaggerated sound of a gun being spun around. This emphasises the warfare mentality of the fighting between the Montagues and the Capulets, and links in with the teenage rebellion genre that is evident in the scene at the petrol station. The genre of teenage rebellion combined with the male banter that occurs between the Montague ‘Boys’ makes the film and the play relevant to modern day audiences, and especially to the films’ target audience of young teenagers.

The theme of tragedy is continually being suggested by the application of police drama and documentary genres in the opening sequences. Directly after the opening prologue, which is done in the style of a documentary, the audience is inundated with a series of quick fire images describing and explaining the events leading up to the discovery of Juliet’s ‘dead’ body.

The sonnet in the prologue in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” consists of many references to the tragedy that follows it in”… the two hours’ traffic of our stage… ” These references to the general theme of tragedy clearly set the tone for the rest of the play, and lines such as “… A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life… ” prepare the audience for the death of the lead roles. This dramatic technique is often used in plays, both in Shakespeare’s time and in modern days. It is used to make the audience feel privileged because they have been let in on a secret that no one in the cast of the play knows about.

This is not the only dramatic technique that is used in the writing of this sonnet; Shakespeare has also used alliteration and repetition to emphasise the relevance of certain words and phrases “… Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean … From forth the fatal loins… … Doth with their death… ” He also uses a lot of imagery throughout the prologue, which is something that Baz Luhrmann has studied and interpreted to his own advantage in the film.

Images like “… star-crossed lovers… ” and, “…bury their parents’ strife… ” are first told to the audience in the prologue, then written on the screen to re-emphasise their significance. This is followed by images of events that have happened, and that are yet to happen in the film. This gives the effect of allowing the audience to almost predict the outcome of the story, and therefore accentuates the theme of tragedy in the opening images of the film.

Shakespeare has deliberately used language that could be associated with tragedy in the prologue, words and phrases like “… ancient grudge… new mutiny,” first hint at the tragedy ahead in the first section of the sonnet, and this foreboding is increased by the later use of expressions that link the joint issues of love and tragedy that the play is built around.

In establishing the play as a tragedy, the most significant part of the prologue is, “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, Whose misadventured, piteous overthrows Doth with their death, bury their parents’ strife. ”

This section uses alliteration, imagery, language and genre to convey and promote the theme of tragic love as the focus of the play. All of these words, and indeed the whole sonnet, are repeated several times throughout the introduction of the film. First the chorus recites it to us, and then it is told to us again by a voiceover whilst the more significant words are shown in the form of newspaper headlines, and as words on the screen. Luhrmann does this to show the importance of this introduction and to impress the contents of the sonnet firmly in the audience’s mind.

Baz Luhrmann makes use of the imagery given to him by Shakespeare, but makes use of icons to further express the sentiments first mentioned in the sonnet. He makes particular use of religious iconography from the very beginning of the prologue; he shows many different images of religious statues and icons, which signifies the pure simplicity of Romeo and Juliet’s love. He also shows an image of a religious statue standing in between the two imposing Capulet and Montague buildings that are much more predominant than the icon.

This insinuates that the two households of Verona regard themselves as being much bigger and more important than religion. It also implies that religion has no hold over the two families; they have taken things into their own hands and have grown out of proportion to the rest of the natural order of things. Luhrmann also uses a lot of iconography to assert the power and status of the Capulets and the Montagues. Both of the families have sizeable cars, and ostentatious expensive jewellery, which accentuates the power and the money that is behind the rift between the families.

All through the introduction, there are references to, and images of, guns. This is opposed by the constant images of purity that are placed as along side the violent images as a contrast and to emphasise the innocent love corrupted by the violence and hatred of the Montague and Capulet households. All of these examples of iconography can be linked to the theme of tragedy, but probably none more than the image that is shown of the Montague and Capulet family pictures on a newspaper page. This image is shown, and then quickly a flickering flame is shown to us.

The sequence is repeated, and overall, it gives the impression that the paper is being burnt. This signifies the destruction of the two families, and as the fire was started by the feud between them, it signifies how they brought about their own devastation. Luhrmann has used the original setting of Verona for Romeo and Juliet, but transposed it into the modern setting of ‘Verona Beach’. This translates the text to his benefit in the way that his audience can then link it to the ‘Venice Beach’ in California on which the slightly corrupt but beautiful Verona Beach in Romeo and Juliet is based on.

He has also interpreted the text to his advantage by calling the make of gun that all of the characters have a ‘Sword’ or ‘Longsword’ in the case of Montague. This creates a diversion around what would otherwise be an awkward obstacle in the transformation of the original text into the modern setting of his film. Scene 1 of the play comes after the dramatic prologue and begins the text with banter between Sampson and Gregory.

Although this is a lighter part of the play, there are violent undertones to their jokes, enhanced by the language typical of a tragedy that echoes back to the darker, more obviously tragic prologue. Scene 1 gives the audience the background of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, “The quarrel is between our masters and us their men. ” By incorporating their hatred of the opposing household into the mens’ banter, it adds a sense of normality to the dispute, as though it has been going on for so long, it has become almost normal for most of the population of Verona.

This scene helps to establish the setting and basis for the feud, as well as lifting out of the theme of tragedy for the majority of the conversation between Romeo and Benvolio, and bringing in the theme of love for the first time. Baz Luhrmann has focused very specifically on his target audience when in choosing his cast for the film. He has used an actor who is very popular among young teenagers for the lead role, and a lead female who is also suitably pretty and nai?? ve so as to appeal to the target audiences’ assumptions of beauty and popularity.

Casting a popular actor as the lead male role also increases the tragedy for some of the target audience. There is a variety of music used throughout the prologue and first scene, predominantly opera. This fits in with the vivid, fast moving images shown during the prologue. The style of the music also builds up the tension until the climax of the prologue, and its dramatic pitch helps to grip the audiences’ attention from the very beginning of the film. This melodramatic opera, slides seamlessly into modern upbeat music that has been used to integrate with the typical male banter at the beginning of the first scene.

Music has also been used to enhance the genres and themes shown in the first scene, for example the fight between the Capulets and the Montagues at the beginning of the scene is set to music that would not be out of place in a Western movie, which enhances the Spaghetti Western genre exemplified in this scene. Baz Luhrmann has employed many different types of camera work, mainly using crash zooms, tilts, tracks and high shots during the prologue to create effects of startling, dramatic impact.

There are lots of diverse images shown to us at a very fast pace and this has been used to show the uncontrollable chaotic turn of events, first with the feud and then later with the death of Tybalt and the banishment of Romeo. In this way, it demonstrates the films’ events and establishes it as a tragedy. Luhrmann has used these effects combined with the dramatic music to create a prologue that summons emotions in the audience that makes it clear that this film is going to be a tragedy.

After the prologue, Luhrmann slips very easily into a lighter part of the play by using a fade-in technique to get from the title page into a vivid bright shot of ‘the Montague boys. ‘ This adds to the seamless change from a highly powerful and emotional part of the play, to a lighter part that people can relate to, that is readily matched and demonstrated by the music. During the fighting sequence and the build up to it, lots of close ups, big close ups and extreme close ups are used to show the posture, and expression of Benvolio and Tybalt.

Luhrmann employs these techniques so as to show the fear and reckless abandon shown by the separate gangs. This expressions of the Montagues particularly enhance the sense of tragedy about the film, because on the whole the look scared and showing this using extreme close ups make it more obvious and so appeals to the human senses much more so than if we were viewing it from a distance. Luhrmann has used specific lighting to fit in with the clarity and depth of the text. At the beginning of the images used to depict the prologue, he has made the lighting quite bright, but when the line

“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,” the lighting becomes much darker and more overcast to blend in with the text, which has started to reflect the play’s theme of tragedy. In conclusion, I think that Baz Luhrmann and William Shakespeare, although they are addressing the same story and theme, proceed to do so in different ways. This is because of the different media that is used and that was made available to them. Luhrmann had the choice of using iconography, a technique that he employed a lot during the film, whereas Shakespeare did not, and this immediately made a big difference in their styles.

Luhrmann has taken a stylised approach to the play, whereas when Shakespeare’s original version is produced, it is often portrayed as a naturalistic piece. Shakespeare focuses much more on the text and language to launch his theme, whereas Luhrmann is more successful as establishing the genre of tragedy through his choice of images and pace. In this was I can conclude that they were both successful in establishing Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy, but they did so with contradictory methods.